With so many different sleeping bags out there, there’s no simple way to go about making sure you get the best sleeping bags for backpacking. It’s not like you can just go test it for the weekend to see if it’s for you. It requires some thorough research and a good understanding of what you want your bag for. Well yes, sleeping in, but where will you be using it and at what time of year? Will it need to be a super lightweight sleeping bag that is highly packable, or are you happy carrying a little extra to ensure comfort and warmth? Are you a nighttime wriggler or a mummy-like slumberer? Do you get frozen toes even in summer or are you one of those hot-handed people who don’t even need gloves in winter?
Once you’ve managed to carve out some idea of what you require for dreamlike comfort, then you can start whittling your choices down. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best sleeping bags for backpacking that are suitable for 3-season camping. You will also find a guide of what to look for when making your crucial decision, to ensure you get many years of cosy wilderness sleeps out of your outdoor snooze sack.
The best sleeping bags of 2017
|Product||Features||Limit Temperature rating||Type of bag||Weight||Cost|
|Kelty Cosmic Down 20||Best value award||-7ºC/20ºF||600 fill down||1162g||$|
|North Face Cat's Meow||Good value||-5ºC/22ºF||Synthetic||1162g||$|
|Sea to Summit Spark SP II||Super light and packable||2ºC/35ºF||800+ fill down||513g||$$$$|
|ZPacks Solo Down||Lightest sleeping bag||-7ºC/20ºF||900 fill down||410g||$$$$|
|Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Flame||Good all rounder||-6ºC/21ºF||Synthetic||1110g||$$|
|Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20||All rounder award||-7ºC/20ºF||850+ fill down||821g||$$$$$|
|Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt||Versatile quilt||-7ºC/20ºF||800 fill down||539g||$$$|
|Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 3 Season||Most innovative design||-7ºC/20ºF||800 fill down||1130g||$$$$|
How to choose the best sleeping bags for backpacking
It goes without saying, a good sleeping bag’s main purpose is to keep you warm. However, to make sure you choose a bag that suits your temperature needs, it’s important to first of all understand if you sleep warm or cool. For cold sleepers, it may be worthwhile considering a bag with a lower comfort rating than the temperature you are likely to be exposed to. This may also mean having a heavier sleeping bag than you might prefer. Unfortunately there’s always a compromise!
Secondly, you need to consider where and when you will be using your bag the most. A good all rounder bag might not be best suited to summer only campers, or even high alpine backpackers. So try to be as specific as possible about the likely use of your bag. All the sleeping bags in this review are based on 3-season camping and are some of the best sleeping bags for backpacking available.
Also, women tend to sleep cooler than men and need those extra few degrees to keep cosy, so when looking at the temperature rating of sleeping bags, make sure you apply the correct rating to you:
- Comfort rating – the temperature at which an adult female can expect to sleep comfortably.
- Limit rating – the temperature at which an adult male can expect to sleep comfortably.
- Extreme rating – the lowest temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep an adult female alive. It is a temperature that also poses significant risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
The temperature ratings in this review are based on the limit rating of each sleeping bag.
As a backpacker, your sleeping bag will be one of the heaviest items you will carry. So in theory the lighter the better. However, getting the balance is essential and many backpackers will be happy to take the hit of a few extra hundred grams in their packs for the sake of a warm and comfortable night’s sleep. For the best of both worlds, you will need to spend more to get the best warmth to weight ratio possible, which is where personal preference and priorities take over.
The best 3 season sleeping bags can weigh anything from 400g to 1500g, but ideally you don’t want to be carrying much more than 1100g or 1200g.
Synthetic vs down
The unrivalled warmth to weight ratio of down sleeping bags make them the preferred choice for backpackers. Down is measured in fill power, e.g. 600 fill. This figure indicates the quality of the down which affects the degree of loft or fluffiness the down has. The higher the fill power, the more fluffy the down will be, creating more air pockets to trap and retain heat, thus providing more warmth. Down is also super durable and if cared for correctly, and the best down sleeping bags can last many years longer than synthetic.
Compared with the heavier, bulkier and often less warm option of synthetic sleeping bags, the highly compressible luxury of down bags comes at a price. Not only are they much more expensive than synthetic bags, but even the best down sleeping bags also perform poorly when wet. So if you are likely to be adventuring in damp and soggy conditions, you may want to consider a synthetic sleeping bag which provides decent insulation when wet and also dries much quicker than down.
For more information on which is the best for you, read our Synthetic vs Down article.
Pack down size
For the minimal backpacker, the space-saving properties of a small pack down size sits pretty high up on the list of requirements for their sleeping bag of choice. As mentioned, down is much more compressible than synthetic, so if it’s a hand-sized ultralight sleeping bag you are after, then you’ll have to take the hit and spend the extra on a down sleeping bag.
Features of sleeping bags for backpacking
The most common style of sleeping bags for backpacking are mummy bags that are designed to fit your body shape, providing warmth and insulation where it is needed most. A well fitting sleeping bag contributes greatly to the warmth of a bag, ensuring that dead air space is kept at a minimum. A typical mummy bag includes the following features:
- Hood – essential to avoid heat loss through your head on cooler nights, but can be too warm and uncomfortable during warmer trips.
- Zipper – most commonly placed on the side (either left or right) of the bag, but sometimes found on the front to suit alpine climbers. Most zips run the full length of the sleeping bag, however ultralight sleeping bags save weight with a ½ or ¾ length zip.
- Draft collar – also known as a neck baffle, is an insulated tube sewn into the inside of the bag to provide a cosy draft excluder around your neck.
- Draft tube – this is a single internal baffle that runs the length of the zip to prevent any unwanted breeze from creeping in and warm air seeping out of the teeth of the zip.
- Footbox – this at the bottom of the sleeping bag where your feet sit. It is slightly wider than the area around your shins to provide more space for your feet to move.
Other things to consider when looking at the best sleeping bags for backpacking
Width – Most of the best sleeping bags for backpacking come in a standard width to suit a regular frame. However if you have a particularly wide or broad frame, or you tend to move around a lot in your sleep, a wide fit might be preferable. Many brands have wide or extra-wide options to choose from.
Length – as with the width of your bag, getting the right length is also important. There’s no point carrying the extra weight of a bag that is too long, and the extra space inside will also hinder the insulation levels of the bag. So choose something that is the correct length for you.
Water resistance – if you’re splashing out on one of the best down sleeping bags anyway, then choose one whose outer shell has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment to help keep the moisture out. Some companies also add a water resistance coating to the down itself. However, as yet there is little evidence to support its effectiveness, so it may not be worth the extra investment – for now.
So now that you (hopefully) know what you’re looking for, here’s a breakdown of 8 of the best sleeping bags for backpacking currently available:
All rounder sleeping bags for backpacking
Although this is the most expensive of all the sleeping bags for backpacking in this review, we have awarded this Western Mountaineering bag the Cool of the Wild All Rounder Award for its quality and versatility both on and off the trail. If you are able to make the initial investment, the extra spend will be well worth it for the long lifespan that the 850+ down fill and the ultra-compressible ExtremeLite fabric provides.
The Ultralite owes its excellent thermal efficiency to the slim fit of the bag, eliminating as much dead space as possible. This also contributes to its low weight, and whilst some might find the fit restrictive, those with a regular frame will still feel cosy right up to the limit temperature rating. For those favouring a slightly wider bag, the Western Mountaineering Alpinlite is a good alternative.
To seal the deal, Western Mountaineering sleeping bags contain down that is gathered from the nests of geese who cluck around on a free-range farm.
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This may not be the lightest sleeping bag for backpacking, but with a price tag that is this competitive, it is certainly worth considering. The highest performing and one of the best synthetic sleeping bags on the market, the unrivalled warm when wet capability of the Flame certainly makes your dollars go a long way.
Mountain Hardwear use Lamina technology in their synthetic sleeping bag construction, which welds the fill in place instead of the traditional method of stitching. This process eliminates the cold spots that usually occur from the stitching method in synthetic bags. For one of the best 4 season sleeping bags in this range, the Lamina -30 is also an excellent synthetic option.
The central half length zip might put some people off who prefer the option of foot venting in warmer conditions. But for alpine climbers and backcountry explorers this bag fits the bill superbly. Its general great quality and good value makes the Flame an excellent 3-season bag for most camping scenarios and is a very close contender for our All Rounder Award.
The Kelty Cosmic Down 20 is a really excellent choice for backpackers who want to keep their costs down without having to snuggle into a sub-standard sack. Yes, the 600 down fill may not be the quality of the high-end bags, shortening its lifespan comparatively, but its lower limit temperature rating puts the Kelty Cosmic Down 20 into the 3-season bag category and a good option for entry level backpackers – amongst the best sleeping bags for the money.
It has been restyled for 2017 to include hydrophobic DriDown insulation which claims faster drying down and better warmth when wet. With the usual features expected from a traditional mummy sleeping bag, the Kelty Cosmic Down 20 suits car campers and casual backpackers who don’t mind carrying the extra weight and bulk over short distances.
It is the best budget sleeping bag in the review and winner of the Cool of the Wild Best Value Award.
Another excellent and great value entry level sleeping bag that will suit a variety of 3 season camping scenarios and short backpacking trips. Although bulkier than the Kelty Cosmic Down 20, the synthetic fill makes it slightly more versatile due to its ability to withstand moist conditions a little better and hold its insulation when wet.
Another nice feature of this basic mummy design are the pad loops for attaching the bag to your sleeping mat and preventing you from sliding off your mat. The Cat’s Meow is also available in a female specific cut for optimum warmth, and with extra insulation in the footbox and hood.
Lightest sleeping bags for backpacking
This a good value ultralight sleeping bag for its weight and size, and is ideal for fast and light backpackers or bikepackers in summer conditions, or for those who sleep warm in cooler climes. Its lower limit temperature rating doesn’t quite put it into the 3-season category so for something a little more toastie, the Spark SP III will take you comfortably into fall camping.The Spark II packs down to an incredible 2.9 litres and is one of the best compact sleeping bags you will get your hards on. The high quality 850+ Ultra-Dry Down fill and DWR treated nylon outer shell makes it a good down sleeping bag option when storms are looming.
Sea to Summit have saved weight with the thin nylon outer and a ⅓ length zip which makes the mummy bag a little less versatile than bags with a full zip, but one of the tiniest and most lightweight sleeping bags on the market.
The ZPacks Solo is incredibly light for the warmth that it provides and is one of the best warmth to weight ratio sleeping bags on the market, making it a hot contender for the all rounder award. It owes much of its weight saving to the ¾ length zip, lack of draft tube and lack of hood. For extra cost (and weight) you can add these to your order but the basic design makes the Solo instantly less versatile than traditional mummy bags.
On the plus side, the down is ethically sourced and you can also customise the width and length of the bag to suit your frame.
As the lightest sleeping bag in this review the Solo is a great choice for fast and light backpackers who are willing to spend the extra for reliable warmth without compromising weight.
Most innovative sleeping bags for backpacking
Many minimalist backpackers are favouring the innovative quilt set up for their backcountry camp comfort, and the Revelation Quilt is one the best backpacking quilts out there for super versatile sleeping options. Use as an open quilt in warm summer weather or zip up the footbox and clip to your pad for warmth and insulation that rivals any of the high-end mummy bags.
The theory behind the success of camping quilts is their reliance on good insulation from your sleeping pad instead of from the bottom of your sleeping bag (which only loses insulation as it gets compressed). Weight is saved by the lack of ‘bottom’, without compromising the insulation capability of the down.
So for fast and light backpackers, bikepackers and adventurers, this super versatile innovative design is an great value ultralight sleeping bag option that doesn’t compromise quality or warmth.
Its main downside is the lack of hood, so on colder nights you will need a hat or jacket with a hood.
If you’re someone who struggles with the confines of mummy style sleeping bags then the Backcountry Bed is a seriously cosy and super practical alternative. Sierra Designs have dreamed up everything that a nighttime wriggler could possibly want in a luxurious and comfortable down sleeping bag, with no toggles, cords or zips to make the magic happen. Its features include:
- A zipperless foot vent that allows you to give your twinklies a breather through an overlapping baffle system.
- A sleeping pad sleeve on the bottom of the bag to keep the bag in place without limiting your movement.
- An integrated quilt that can be tucked into the main bag or used externally on warmer nights.
- Arm sleeves to tuck your hands into, allowing you to move the quilt easily, and for extra insulation if you are sleeping with the quilt outside of the bag.
The main downsides of this highly innovative approach to camping comfort is the high price tag and weight.
If you’re still not sure if any of the above sleeping bags for backpacking are for you, then you may also want to take a look at these two great all rounder down sleeping bags:
New to the Big Agnes range this mummy style bag features an attachable pad sleeve tech kit to prevent you from slipping off your sleeping pad. A highly versatile bag for a variety of 3 season camping scenarios.
Fill: 650 down fill
This 3-season bag has both water repellent down and waterproof/breathable panels. A good option for use in damp conditions.
Fill: 850+ down fill
Min Temp: -5C/22F
Sleeping bag storage and care
Whilst down sleeping bags tend to have a longer lifespan than their synthetic counterparts, it’s still important to give them the right care to help them last as long as possible.
Although it may seem scary, washing your down bag will at some point become necessity! Do it in the bath making sure you follow the product specific instructions, and use this down tech wash instead of normal washing detergent.
Most sleeping bags come with a stuff sack, but if you need something with extra compression then these Alps bags available in different sizes.
When not in use, down bags should be stored in a large storage sack to prolong the effectiveness of the down and let is re-fluff! If your sleeping bag doesn’t come with a storage bag then make sure you get one.